Elbow MRI

Learn more about the Elbow body part, what can be detected when it's scanned, and why you might need it scanned.

A Guide to Elbow Pain: How can an MRI Scan Help?

Imagine you are on the tennis court. As you toss the ball in the air, your other arm extends the racquet to strike the ball, upon contact you feel a sharp pain reverberate through your elbow. You begin to ask yourself what happened. Perhaps a twist of the arm caused the sharp pain or the force of the strike? One thing is for sure: you can no longer finish the match. This type of scenario frequently occurs to those who place repetitive stress on their arm and elbow joint. The action may vary but the result always comes in the form of elbow pain.

It can be challenging to determine the exact cause of the pain. It could be a ligament tear, inflammation, or even a fracture. The only way to identify the culprit is with an elbow MRI scan. Continue reading to find out the common causes of elbow pain, and how an MRI scan can be used to help you make a full recovery.

What can an MRI detect in an Elbow?

An elbow MRI uses a powerful magnetic field and radio waves to capture images of your elbow. These images show:

  • Bones
  • Cartlidge
  • Ligaments
  • Muscles
  • Other soft tissue structures

These images can be used by your physician to determine if there is any damage or abnormalities in your elbow that is causing your pain. An MRI scan can detect common injuries such as:

  • Fractures
  • Ligament tears
  • Nerve damage
  • Inflammation
  • Dislocation

An elbow MRI scan can also be used to identify degenerative damage such as osteoarthritis or abnormal tumours. The ability to view all of the structures in the elbow joint allows radiologists to determine the source of potential pain. Isolating the probable cause of your pain means your physician can prescribe an accurate recovery plan.

What is Tennis Elbow and How can an MRI scan identify it?

One of the most common elbow injuries is lateral epicondylitis, also known as tennis elbow. It is an overuse injury that happens from repetitive movements such as tennis, but also any type of repetitive use of the Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis (ECRB) muscle and tendon. As the ECRB muscle stabilizes the wrist, the ECRB tendon, connecting the muscle to the bone, is pulled. Over time the repetitive movement can cause micro-tears in the tendon, resulting in pain and inflammation. While these tiny tears can be hard to detect in an MRI, the scan can identify the inflammation around this tendon thereby diagnosing a probable cause.

How can an MRI Scan be Used to Reduce Pain?

An elbow MRI scan cannot be used to alleviate pain directly. However, it is used to identify the source of elbow pain. By showing the numerous structures in one image, radiologists can more accurately determine the potential cause of a patient’s pain. After identifying the damage and severity of the injury, physicians can intervene and prescribe a suitable treatment plan. This increases the chance of a quick and full recovery.

The Bottom Line

Elbow pain is frustrating, it limits your range of motion, reduces your ability to perform everyday tasks and forces you to give up recreational activities. If you are experiencing elbow pain, avoid the long NHS wait times and consider getting a private MRI scan. A speedy diagnosis is the first step in your rehabilitation, let one of our MRI centres help you get back to enjoying your everyday life.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3548664/
  2. https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/elbow
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16481216/
  4. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/tennis-elbow-lateral-epicondylitis/
  5. https://www.diagnosticimaging.com/view/mr-imaging-illuminates-elbow-joint-disorders

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